Monday, November 03, 2008

Frank Miller on Superhero Comics and Their Readers

"I feel that pulp super-hero comics depend on a safer, less risky approach to the telling of a story. They're children's books for Christ's sake. Since what I want to do, and what must be done, is to explore the form, to play with different kinds of contents, I work primarily in different formats. What has to develop is a structure to the industry where the avant-garde of the talent is encouraged to do the more ambitious work, where the pulp super-hero comics and the buttheadedness of their readership no longer restrain bolder work, but rather are affected by it, synthesizing techniques that develop, and are steadily pulled forward from the storytelling methods of the '40s."
--Frank Miller
In my research for this week's "When Words Collide" column, I came across that excerpt from a 1985 interview with Miller, published in The Comics Journal #101. (That whole issue of TCJ is a fascinating time capsule of the time right before Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.)

Here are my questions:

1. Even though we talk about how different the comic book landscape looks now compared to 1985, have Miller's words become true?

2. Have the superhero comics truly synthesized the techniques of the "bolder" work done in the medium?

3. Is it the "buttheadedness" of the readers that continues to restrain the genre?


Marc Caputo said...

God, this reminds me of 2000-2001 when I went through a manic phase in which I hunted down EVERY Comics Journal from 37 (1st mag-sized issue - present).

This issue was one of my favorites (actually, this period was a high-water mark as well.) I still love the cover shot. It's in storage - can we get a scan?

Chad Nevett said...

For the third question: yes, especially because the vast, VAST majority of writers grew up as fans. The obsession over continuity and telling that one great [character x] story... The best work is the stuff that tries to be progressive and doesn't give a shit beyond telling interesting stories, not obsessing over bringing a beloved childhood character back because it's the REAL [character x]... Obsessions with the past brought on by encyclopedic knowledge of said past is crippling and leads to stagnation. But, what it always really comes down to is a quote Warren Ellis used in one of his Come in Alone columns, written by a fan online:

"I'd rather read junk about characters I know and love than well-written stories about characters I do not care about."

Dean Trippe said...

Frank Miller sounds like a mediocre art student trying to BS his way through a critique. Nice try, Mr. Miller. C-

Ben said...

I gotta disagree, Mr. Dean. Historically, Miller is right, and Scott McCloud says the same thing: in any art medium, the health of the medium can be determined by the most progressive work in the field, since it is that which determines what the next generation of creators will turn to...
But then again, that is a good way of BSing one's way through a critique. That's why I love creative writing critiques better than traditional art workshops--a writer's work is meant to speak for itself, so there's no BS to hash out :-)